Pyramid Peak via Rocky Canyon

10-11 Apr 2004 - by Peter Maxwell

On the weekend of April 10/11, Anouchka Gaillard and I (Peter Maxwell) decided to celebrate Easter by climbing Pyramid Peak. We wanted to try a different route than from Echo Lake and our original intention was to use the Horsetail Falls trailhead. However, we received various negative feedback about using this trail at this time of year, which included tedious manzanita and wet, slick rocks to climb out of the canyon. Neither of these was very appealing so we opted instead for the use trail that goes up Rocky Canyon, about 1 mile before Twin Bridges, just outside of Strawberry. Thanks to all who offered advice.

This trail is often used by people who dayhike the peak, and there is a turnout on highway 50 that is usable for this purpose. We planned to camp out, and were uncertain about leaving the car overnight in that location, so were fortunate enough to find a friendly cabin owner a 5 minute walk away who agreed to let us leave the car there. Speaking of parking, the Forest Service park at Twin Bridges was still closed, even though there was not a scrap of snow around. We did discover a nice parking area on the other side of the road. It would probably be inaccessible in winter, but in present conditions offered a fairly large area well away from the road and under trees. A couple of other cars were already there.

We had a delightfully leisurely 9:45 am start, and the first challenge was to find the trailhead. It's not at all obvious, and starts a bit to the east of Rocky Canyon. Once again we were lucky in that somebody else who knew the start showed us the spot. We'd already overshot it on the road when he whistled us back, like stray dogs! The waypoint for this spot is N 38 degrees 48.512', W 120 degrees 8.161' (accuracy of 18'). This person also gave us the co-ordinates of what he considered the only viable creek crossing higher up, although we didn't use it because there was enough snow cover that we didn't need to cross at that point. He said he was referring to summer use, when higher up became much messier with bushes. For those interested, this log crossing is at N 38 degrees 49.215', W 120 degrees 8.386', elevation 7340'.

The really great thing about the trail is that the manzanita has been cleared, which made for a clear walk for most of the canyon. When serious snow patches started at around 7400' then the trail became obliterated and a small amount of bushwacking was necessary but by and large it was relatively open. We crossed briefly to the west side of the creek, but when it bent more to the west we continued north and headed up the side of the ridge. This became steep enough that the softened snow made our snowshoes slide a bit and in retrospect it would have been easier to have gone up southwest of the creek, where the slopes are gentler.

We camped at around 8600', just below a broad area of the ridge at the base of the south ridge proper of the peak. Arriving early afternoon we had plenty of time to dig a platform for the tent. The wind got worse and worse the rest of the day and when we went up to the broad area to check out the peak, were faced with gusts that were strong enough to make us lose balance. We were glad not to be on the peak in those conditions.

All through the night the wind never let up, the whole tent shaking with each gust. The cycle repeated itself all night: the trees would roar, the gust would hit, a brief lull for a few seconds and then repeat. Amazingly enough, it blew itself out around 7 am and was calm for the rest of the day.

We had another non-alpine start by sleeping in until 8 am. What luxury! After leaving around 9 am it took about 90 minutes to reach the summit. We left the snowshoes behind at camp and took crampons, but didn't need them as there were enough exposed rocks to climb up the steeper sections and the snow was soft enough for the descent. Hardly a breath of wind and clear skies made for stunning views that were hard to leave behind. We didn't find any summit register, but then so many people climb this mountain that it would probably fill up in a week anyway. My new lightweight tabletop tripod made taking summit shots of the two of us a cinch - no more trying to prop up the camera on rocks. I should have bought one years ago.

Less than an hour was needed to get back to camp, followed by lunch, packing up and the hike out. We tried to stay on the east side of the creek, figuring why cross and then recross, but were forced back to the west side when it became obvious the ground was not as steep there. After recrossing to the east we diverted away from it and had more difficulty finding the trail down, but since the trail is within sight of the creek, by heading towards the sound of rushing water one is bound to intersect it.

The disappointment of the trip was being unable to find a decent restaurant open on Easter Sunday. Instead we had to settle for Baja Fresh in Tracy, with no beer.

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